Matt Herges is eager to become the Dodgers’ closer, but the right-hander will not be the team’s primary ninth-inning stopper when the regular season begins. Nor will anyone else in the bullpen.
Barring a trade for a proven closer, Manager Jim Tracy said Saturday he will employ a closer-by-committee system to open the season, with Herges, newly acquired Paul Quantrill and possibly Giovanni Carrara auditioning for the role. The job won’t be won in camp.
“It’s difficult to determine a closer in spring training, because you run into guys in spring training games that you won’t see until [minor leaguers are called up] in September,” Tracy said. “The games change dramatically when April 2 rolls around. I can’t put myself in a position to be misled by things you’re seeing in spring.”
Potential closers are probably the most difficult players to evaluate in spring training because there is no way to simulate the pressure that accompanies the ninth inning of a one-run regular-season game before a hostile crowd of 45,000. Grapefruit League games don’t count, and most front-line players are gone by the fifth inning.
Tracy hopes one reliever eventually emerges as the team’s closer, but he wants to see how Herges, who is more of a power pitcher, and Quantrill, whose power sinker induces a lot of ground balls, respond in the regular season before determining who gets the job. And that’s fine with Herges.
“I definitely want to be the closer, but during spring training it’s tough to find the closer-type innings,” said Herges, who went 9-8 with a 3.44 earned-run average as the Dodgers’ set-up man last season. “If that’s the way they want to go, that’s fine. They don’t want to say you’re the closer now because that’s the safe move. In this situation, that’s fair enough for me. That’s all I can ask for, to be considered.”
The most important part of a pitcher’s training regimen the first two weeks of camp is his bullpen workouts, but Tracy and Dodger coaches are putting just as much emphasis on fundamentals such as defense and bunting.
“We talked about the fact that the world champion [Arizona Diamondbacks] won six more games than us last year,” Tracy said. “The difference in six games can be the execution of a bunt, a bad pickoff throw ... you could win a game you end up losing. These guys need to know that every single thing they do out here is important.
“When you talk about six games, you don’t have to reach too deep into the memory bank to find little things that made a difference, especially in 58 one-run games.... We have to minimize the things you do to beat yourself.”
News of San Diego Padre outfielder Mike Darr’s death in a car accident Friday hit the Dodger clubhouse hard.
“He was a kid who worked his butt off to live the dream of being in the big leagues,” said pitcher Andy Ashby, who played with Darr in San Diego. “He was a great guy, a great teammate. I’m so hurt for his family, for his wife and kids. When things like this happen, you don’t know what to think. It’s so sad. It goes to show you anything can happen to anybody at any time.”
Dodger pitcher Stan Spencer played with Darr in the Padre farm system.
“He was a great guy, the type of guy you want to have on your team,” Spencer said. “He was a sparkplug, he was funny and he had a great personality. He would do anything for you. He was a talented player and it’s a loss for baseball. I think he would have been a great ambassador for the game.”